Albania and its main cities and ports have been highlighted in a report called “Hotspots of Organised Crime in the Western Balkans”.
The report, authored by Global Initiative, an international organised crime watchdog looks at the prevalence of drugs and organised crime throughout the region. The Albanian cities of Shkodër, Lezhë, Durrës, Vlorë, Sarandë, Fier, Elbasan, and Tiranë all get mentions as problematic areas, and the situation in the country is described as being enabled “by a political economy of crime” that allows illicit activity to flourish.
Reference is also made to the ongoing anti-corruption and anti organised crime protests– over 10 have been held since February, organised by the opposition parties.
The report also notes that “there have been allegations of vote buying– particularly with the proceeds of the cannabis trade”. It adds that “some individuals with criminal backgrounds have been appointed as member of Parliament”, noting that it is “not surprising” that some have since been caught being involved in criminal activities.
The city of Shkoder in the north is reported as rife with loan sharks, human trafficking, extortion, the trafficking of drugs and migrants, and the prevalence of mafia-style families with national and international ties. The report describes them as being connected to “political actors and parties”.
Durres, a short drive down the coast is also described as a “hotspot for various forms of trafficking” where customs officials are discouraged from checking certain vehicles. The report details a number of instances of drugs being sized there but notes the issue of drugs being concealed in buses, cars, trucks, containers, and in shipments of leather.
For cannabis smuggling, the port city of Vlore is implicated and also described as a place where murders, turf wars, and revenge violence prevail. Global Initiative also comment that the area “enjoys a degree of collusion between criminals and police and protection from certain politicians”.
In Sarandë, it is reported that drug mules carry cannabis across the border into Greece and that border officials turn a blind eye, under instruction of their superiors. Heroin and cocaine are also believed to be smuggled at Qafë–Botë where there is no scanning equipment.
Kurbin is pinpointed as a place known for drug trafficking, robbery, burglary, and money laundering and there is rumoured to be cannabis cultivation in the area. Neighbouring Lezhë also gets a mention as having groups active in human, drug, and gun trafficking. Those involved are claimed to launder their money into real estate and tourism in the area and criminals are described as having “close links to politicians”. According to the report, a number of MPs are said to be involved in organised crime.
Moving further south, Elbasan is named as an intersectorary point on major trafficking routes for cocaine, cannabis, and heroin. Fier is also described as a key part of international networks. An anonymous source said “the fact that they are rather violent, sophisticated and closely linked with politics, has made the organizations operating in Fier rather untouchable.”
Lastly, the capital of Tirana whilst being described as “one of the most dynamic capitals in the Balkans” is also reportedly home to some of Albania’s most dangerous criminal groups. Whilst the threat has apparently subsided, there are still activities in drug smuggling, blackmail, illegal gambling, money laundering, racketeering, and paid killings. It is also a place where senior officials in government or the security services meet with members of organised crime syndicates or families.
The report paints a very sad picture of Albania– one where impunity and government complicity in serious organised crime is impacting the country from north to south and east to west. With little to no mention of any improvements due to the government’s action, in fact the report makes multiple accusations of authorities hindering any attempt of improving compliance with the law.
The findings of the report are all based in fact and all of the cases and instances mentioned can be backed up with evidence and reports from other independent sources such as the US State Department. A recent report stated that the country is a source country for cannabis and a transit country for heroin and cocaine. It describes the fact that “official corruption is pervasive and fosters an environment in which drug traffickers are largely able to operate with impunity”.